Full 2009 Toyota 4Runner Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Toyota 4Runner adds a new trail edition option package for enhanced off-road capabilities.
When Toyota introduced the 4Runner in 1984, the "SUV" acronym was mostly unknown to the masses. Two-plus decades on, the SUV is a familiar, ever-evolving part of our automotive landscape. In the beginning, sport-utility vehicles were rugged off-road warriors designed to bust trails and scale rocky peaks. Nowadays, the SUV category offers a wide range of choices, including luxury SUVs, crossovers, mini-utes and so on. There's a sport-utility to suit nearly any taste.
The 2009 Toyota 4Runner is available in several flavors with varying degrees of utility and luxury, but its foundation of off-road strength remains undiluted; the 4Runner was, after all, originally designed to bully mountain paths, and the current model stays true to those roots. Based on a body-on-frame truck chassis, its rugged underpinnings can tackle the gnarliest of backwoods ruts. Thanks to Toyota's engineering and fine-tuning, the 4Runner is also well-mannered and easy to pilot in the city and on the highway.
This isn't to say that the 4Runner can match the convenience of modern crossovers. Vehicles like Toyota's own Highlander, the GMC Acadia or the Hyundai Veracruz all best the 4Runner in terms of on-road comfort, interior roominess and amenities. Meanwhile, there are still some other traditional midsize SUVs out there that are either more powerful or have had some recent updates, such as the Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder. Help is on the way, as Toyota is expected to release a redesigned 4Runner in the next model year. In the meantime, a 2009 4Runner is still a respectable choice for consumers wanting something that stays true to the original SUV formula.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Toyota 4Runner is a midsize SUV that is offered in three trim levels: SR5, Sport Edition and Limited. The SR5 is the base model, and it comes with standard features that include 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control with rear ventilation, remote keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories with a power rear window, a tilt steering wheel, a power driver seat (on V8 models) and a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio jack.
Upgrading to the Sport Edition will add 17-inch wheels and Toyota's X-REAS suspension that dampens body roll and pitch, enhancing on-road handling. Also included are power front seats (V6 models) and a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with cruise and audio controls. The decidedly upscale Limited trim level goes a step further by adding illuminated running boards, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a household-style power outlet, a leather-trimmed interior, heated front seats, driver seat memory and a six-CD changer. Most of the Sport Edition and Limited add-ons are available as options for the SR5 model.
Additional 4Runner options include a voice-activated navigation system, an upgraded 10-speaker sound system, a rear-seat entertainment system, detachable personal navigation, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free, satellite radio, a sunroof, a rear spoiler, third-row seats and a two-tier cargo system. The X-REAS system is offered on the Limited as an option along with a height-adjustable rear suspension. Available in conjunction with the sport package is the urban runner package that includes many of the upmarket features and options listed above, as well as some interior and exterior accents unique to this model.
New for 2009 is the trail edition package for the V6 SR5 with four-wheel drive, which adds a locking rear differential, traction control and Bilstein shocks for added off-road acumen. Also included are seats covered in a water-resistant material and other exterior and interior trim.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Toyota 4Runner is offered with a standard 4.0-liter V6 or an optional 4.7-liter V8. Both engines are available with either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. The V6 produces 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, while the V8 churns out 260 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. In any configuration, the power is routed through a five-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity for V6 models is 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, while the rear-wheel-drive V8 manages 7,300 pounds when properly equipped (the four-wheel-drive V8 maxes out at 7,000 pounds).
EPA fuel economy estimates place the rear-wheel-drive 4Runner V6 at 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. A V8 version has a 15/19/17 mpg rating, and four-wheel-drive variants get mileage that's only slightly diminished relative to this figure.
Fostering occupant safety, all 2009 Toyota 4Runners come equipped with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags and roll-sensing side curtain airbags for the front seats and second-row seats. In government crash testing, the 4Runner scored four out of five stars for driver and passenger protection in frontal impacts and a perfect five out of five stars for both front and rear side-impact passenger protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded its highest rating of "Good" for frontal- and side-impact passenger protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The standard Toyota 4Runner offers spacious seating for five passengers, with the ability to seat two additional passengers in the optional third-row seats. Unfortunately, the third-row seating is extremely cramped, providing barely enough legroom for children. Making things worse, the 50/50-split third row does not stow or fold flat for added cargo space. Instead, the seats must be folded to the sides or removed altogether. Even with the third row left behind, maximum cargo capacity is 75 cubic feet, which is on the small side for a midsize SUV.
On the whole, the 4Runner's interior is handsomely designed with quality materials. Comments on the Limited version's accommodations are akin to those you'd hear regarding a Lexus. Dials and switches are intuitive and well-placed with the exception of the odd, joystick-like climate controls (we'd much rather have conventional knobs).
Whether you choose the V6 or the optional V8, power is plentiful -- more than enough to satisfy heavy-footed drivers. If substantial towing capability is required, opting for the V8 is a wise choice; otherwise, the more-fuel-efficient V6 will easily manage any other situation.
Despite being based on a traditional truck platform, the 2009 Toyota 4Runner exhibits a very civilized, smooth and controlled ride. When fitted with the X-REAS suspension, the 4Runner delivers reasonably tight and responsive handling. Perhaps more impressive is its off-road ability, as 4WD 4Runners can overcome steep obstacles and navigate wilderness trails with relative ease.